Recognized as the region’s premier food and wine pairing event, the 26th Heart of Florida United Way Chef’s Gala at Walt Disney World Resort featured unlimited sampling of signature dishes prepared by 23 of Central Florida’s top chefs, along with thoughtfully paired fine wines.  The evening also included a sparking wine reception, live music and a silent auction filled with unique items and trips. 

This year they served over 460,000 individuals and raised a record-breaking $300,000+ towards the fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Central Florida.  95 cents of every dollar raised is invested back into the community to fund critical programs.

Chef’s Gala – what a tasteful way to make a difference in the world!

All beverages were generously donated.

All silent auction items were generously donated.

Live performance by an amazing band

Flying Fish – Disney’s BoardWalk: Chef LT Majoras
Cool Water Lobster and Slow Poached Shrimp, Spring Melon, Hearts of Palm, Shaved Serrano and Cava Vinaigrette

SLATE: Chef Jacob Woolf
Smoked Brisket, Jalapeño Creamed Corn, Charred Scallion Vinaigrette and Annatto Oil

Artist Point – Disney’s Wilderness Lodge: Chef Michael Gonsalves
Sweet Maiz Soup – Dungeness Crab, Avocado, Spring Radish, Ramp Mole, Greens

Urban Tide – Hyatt Regency Orlando: Chef Chef Jared Gross
Plantain-Crusted Atlantic Cod, Roasted Red Beet and Crème Fraiche Mash, Kumquat Mostarda

Todd English’s bluezoo – Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort: Chef Jason Wiggin
Crispy Puffed Rice Shrimp, Wasabi Pommes Puree, Sweet Thai Chili

Shutters – Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: Chef Mark Donovan
Caribbean Goat Curry with Fragrant Island Rice and Cilantro-Lime Crema

Hemisphere – Hyatt Regency Orlando: Chef Jeffrey Powell
Chilled California-Style White Fish Ceviche with House Fried Corn Chips

Ale & Compass Restaurant – Disney’s  Beach Club Resort: Chef David Hutnick
Slow Smoked Pork Tenderloin, Bacon Jam, Vermont Cheddar Grits, Barbecue Gastrique and Herb Salad

The Turf Club Bar and Grill – Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa: Chef Dan Marozzi
Pan Seared Salmon Slider – Seared Ora King Salmon, Horseradish Pickled Cucumber Slaw, on a Dill Gougère

blu on the avenue: Chef Tony Krueger
Hot Smoked Scottish Salmon, Dukkah Drop Biscuit, Bacon, Pickled Serrano, Aged Maple Syrup, Flowers

Morimoto Asia – Disney Springs: Chef Yuhi Fujinaga
Foie “PHO”, Kona Kanpachi, Shiso

Latitude and Longitude – Orlando World Center Marriott: Chef Kyle Anderson
Low-Country Perloo Carolina Gold Rice, Chicken Thighs, Andouille Sausage, Florida Rock Shrimp

The Hollywood Brown Derby – Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Chef Craig Schleider
Spicy Togarashi – Crusted Ahi Tuna, House-Made Kimchi, Bamboo Rice and Ginger-Soy Glaze

STK Orlando – Disney Springs: Chef Aaron Taylor
Goat’s Milk Ricotta with Crushed Peas, Mint and Charred Spring Onion

Jiko – The Cooking Place – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Chef Eddie Mendoza

Jiko – The Cooking Place – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Chef Eddie Mendoza
Isitambu – Zulu-Style Samp, Beans with Oxtail and Quail Egg

Tiffins – Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park: Chef Robby Sayles
Blanquette de Veau, Crispy Sweetbreads, Forest Mushroom Ragout and Charred Pearl Onion

Le Cellier Steakhouse – Epcot®: Chef Kevin Downing
Lamb Loin, Confit Marble Potatoes, Spring Vegetable Vinaigrette and Pinot Noir Syrup

Primo by Melissa Kelly – J.W. Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes: Chef Eric Santiago
House-Made Casarecche Pasta, Lake Meadows Duck Confit, Local Mushrooms, Ramp Pesto and Shaved Pecorino

Bull & Bear – Waldorf Astoria Orlando: Chef Richard Brown
Seared Shrimp Scampi with Pinot Grigio Butter, Black Venus Rice Risotto and Parmesan Cheese

Cinderella’s Royal Table – MAGIC KINGDOM Park: Chef Axel Martinez
Blood Orange Braised Beef Short Rib, Melted Leek and Kohlrabi Puree and Sweetie Drop Peppers

Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company: Roast Master Chris DeMezzo
Made-to-Order Specialty Coffees

Amorette’s Patisserie – Disney Springs: Pastry Chef Yoly Lazo Colon
Amorette’s Petite Signature Cake – Chocolate Chiffon, Raspberry Pate Fruit, Red Velvet Cake, Chocolate Biscuit, Dark Chocolate and Cherry Mousse

Gideon’s Bakehouse: Owner Steve Lewis and Chef Nicole Beebe
Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie and Pistachio Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie

Epcot® Bakery Team: Pastry Chef Noah French
Meyer Lemon Tart with Mandarin Orange Jam

Beautiful and breathtaking fireworks are the perfect way to end an amazing night.  Be sure to check out this amazing event next year!

(Source credit: Chef’s Gala)

Chef’s Gala – Epcot Showplace
200 Epcot Center Dr, Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 939-5277

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Pictured: Chicken gyro bowl

We were invited to a media preview today at The Simple Greek – Oviedo as seen on CNBC’s “The Profit” – one of my favorite show that comes on after my favorite show, Shark Tank.  The food was so good and fresh and the restaurant was very clean.  They will be running a Grand Opening special tomorrow 3/9 of $1 GYROS ($7.95 value) from 11am-3pm, limit one.

The Simple Greek redefines the traditional Greek restaurants with an interactive concept that combines fresh, high-quality ingredients and Greek atmosphere in a fast casual setting. The concept utilizes a build-your-own assembly line style set up in an open kitchen to show off all of the fresh food being prepared.  The menu features a variety of dishes such as build your own bowls, salads, pitas and Greek yogurt with a variety of proteins, toppings and sides to choose from at an affordable price.

The Oviedo location is owned by Jonathan Tonn.   Jonathon opened his own franchise after witnessing its success on “The Profit” and he is in partnership with DeSisto Restaurant Group.  DeSisto Restaurant Group also owns The Simple Greek locations in Tampa, FL & East Providence, RI.

Build-Your-Own Gyro Bowl

Top to Bottom:
Gyro Bowl
Greek Fries
Chicken Gyro Whole Wheat Wrap

House-Made Sauces: Hummus, Spicy Hummus, Tzatziki (middle)

Dolmades – rice & herbs rolled in grape leaves

Avgolemono Soup – traditional rice soup

Lentil soup (vegetarian) – lentils & vegetables in a vegetable broth

Baklava – crispy golden filo dough, walnuts, honey.  I highly recommend this dessert!

(Source credit: The Simple Greek)

Be sure to check out The Simple Greek – Oviedo soon to discover your inner Greek!

The Simple Greek
945 City Plaza Way, Oviedo, FL 32765
(407) 542-0106

Kale yeah! Salads are no longer the side piece. As consumers become more ingredient conscious, chefs and restaurateurs across the globe are being pushed to think beyond traditional proteins, and experiment with ethnic flavors and greens-based dishes to accommodate varying palates. Caesar salad, move over and make room for quinoa and farro bowls topped with spicy broccoli, roasted chickpeas and basil.

This month happens to be National Salad Month, and thankfully, here in Florida, we’ve got an abundance of fresh greens and vegetables to mix and match to whip up amazing creations. We’ll start with three places in town to get your salad fix.

Forks up. . . let’s eat our way to summer.

1. The Sanctum Cafe


Dish: Savage Salad – Organic greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, eggplant and corn – all roasted and tossed with bell peppers, sweet onions, carrot ribbons, celery, jicama, zucchini, peas and pepitas. Served with rosemary dressing.

Local Fare: Corn from Long & Scott Farms (Zellwood, Fla.), Deer Park Peaches (Saint Cloud, Fla.) and salad greens and microgreens from The Greenhouse (Apopka, Fla.).

Favorite Salad Ingredient: “Roasted cauliflower is one my favorite toppings!” – Chef-Owner Chelsea Savage

2. The COOP


The Skinny: The new salad bar costs $9.99 per person and includes an endless amount of offerings, such as locally-sourced greens and vegetables, proteins and house made dressings.

Local Fare: The COOP is trekking around the state and shopping with Alderman Farms (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and L&M Farms (Palatka, Fla.).

Favorite Salad Ingredients: “I like the grilled vegetables and the specialty salads that rotate daily at the end of the bar. One of my favorites is a Hoppin’ John Succotash that Whitney makes and a few more are grilled asparagus, roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.” – Chef-Owner John Rivers

3. Dixie Kharma
Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Dish: Hail Kale Salad – Garlicky kale, blackened corn, pickled beets and watermelon rind and smoked tempeh

Local Fare: In this salad, Dixie Kharma’s uses Florida-grown corn and watermelon. When available, they toss in baby kale grown in their pallet garden located in front of Market on South.

Favorite Salad Ingredients: “We love to mix it up. Local ingredients are our first choice. Everything from peppery greens and herbs are a must. Pickled veggies, fruits and roots, heirloom beans and grains are also great.” – Dixie Kharma crew

Greens Guide  

Here’s a handful of local shops to visit to stock up on greens, grains and vegetables. This list is in no way inclusive of our local offerings in Central Florida, so comment with your local go-to store! 

What To Buy Right Now

Bell Pepper | Blueberry | Cabbage | Cantaloupe | Carrot | Celery | Cucumber | Eggplant Grapefruit | Guava | Mango | Mushroom | Orange | Papaya | Peaches | Radish | Sweet Corn | Tangerine | Tomato | Watermelon

Seasonal Recipe – Taverna Opa Orlando’s Watermelon Feta Salad Pizza
Taverna Opa Salad


  • 1 Watermelon slice
  • 1 Oz. Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 5 Mint leaves
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Balsamic glaze


  • On a cutting board, slice the watermelon in half
  • Place the flat side down, and cut a one-inch thick slice, then cut into five slices
  • Plate on a round dish and add feta cheese, olives, mint leaves and drizzle with balsamic glaze

Snack on,

Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!


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taverna opa orlando

It’s a wild scene on this night out: Belly dancers and patrons shimmying on wooden table tops with diners and servers throwing fistfuls of napkins into the air yelling “opa!”, all while a DJ blasts thumping Greek music and Top 40 songs from his booth. Just another late night at Taverna Opa.

Located in Pointe Orlando off of busy International Drive, Taverna Opa is part of a family of restaurants stemming from South Florida. Locally, the restaurant is run by General Manager Vassilis Coumbaros, who spends his days and nights tending to the needs of Taverna Opa and making sure the ship runs smoothly.

On a recent visit, I saw Mr. Coumbaros watching over the servers, helping with the bar, and even assisting with the DJ-ing as the night went on. The Zorba dance song begins to play and the entire restaurant joins in on the Zorba, a traditional Greek line dance, that spins around the restaurant faster and faster, culminating with a heart-stopping table top dance off between the servers.

Usually, the lunch and early dinner time is more calm and serene, with more and more upbeat and raucous music turning on as the night goes on. It’s a great place for celebrations with groups that are looking for a different, and quite “‘Fun’ with a capital F” time.


The food here is just as good as the “Fun”, with dishes emphasizing fresh, high quality ingredients. For those dining in large parties, try some of their family style menu that comes with various courses depending on the price point. Start with some simple, but exquisite hummus, made with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle for you to mash yourself and served with pita bread. The saganaki, a vlachotiri cheese is served flaming, tableside with a brandy sauce. The oak-wood grilled octopus ($12.00) is a great appetizer, crispy and tender with just the right amount of chewiness and crunch.

For entrees, there is a nice list of seafood, lamb, beef, and chicken dishes to choose from, such as the traditional gyro platters to lamb shank, braised in fresh rosemary, garlic, carrots, tomatoes and red wine, and served on a bed of orzo. The lamb chops are a good choice too, marinated for 36 hours with fresh herbs and garlic and served with roasted potatoes. For seafood lovers, try the red American snapper, a grilled dish served with a lemon caper sauce and wild greens and rice. My favorite entree here however is the grilled seabass, a perfectly seared and rather filling fillet of seabass with a garlic, dill, and lemon zest served with wild greens and rice.

For dessert, try the sweet opa ekmek is a slice of kantaifi cake made with shredded phyllo dough walnuts, and topped with whipped custard cream or the baklava made with walnuts, cinnamon, cloves and honey.

Overall, if you are looking for a memorable, entertaining evening with good food and friends, try Taverna Opa out. You’ll be dancing on table tops and savoring a taste of Greece for days to come.


A new Chef’s Tasting Menu is available during the month. Call to make reservations ahead.

taverna opa orlando

Diners and belly dancers together on the table tops

taverna opa orlando

The Dining Room at Taverna Opa

taverna opa orlando

Mortar and pestle hummus and pita at Taverna Opa

taverna opa orlando

Oak wood grilled Octopus appetizer from Taverna Opa


36 hour marinated Lamb chops


Grilled Seabass with lemon zest


Red American snapper with a lemon caper sauce


Dessert at Taverna Opa


Baklava at Taverna Opa

Taverna Opa on Urbanspoon

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Its location on Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk resort puts it slightly off the radar for many Orlando locals, but Kouzzina by Cat Cora, the Food Network’s first female Iron Chef, reigns supreme under the house of Mouse. Kouzzina by Cat Cora is the Greek American chef’s first table side restaurant, featuring a diverse menu of Greek and Mediterranean specialties inspired by recipes from her childhood and heritage. The atmosphere is loud and family friendly and the restaurant itself is accented with shades of woods, creating a rustic, homey environment surrounding a large open kitchen area. When Chef Cat Cora is away, this Kouzzina (which means kitchen in Greek) is led by the fabulous and fun Chef Dee Foundoukis and her team, bringing together flavorful dishes made on the restaurant’s wood-burning grill and oak-fired ovens. The dishes range from oak-grilled steak and lamb, Greek spinach pie, to calamari, and more.

For a more quiet, intimate, and sophisticated experience, reserve and head on over to the restaurant’s private “CoraNation Room” on Friday and Saturday Nights. Here, up to 24 guests are treated to a specially created, seasonal five course menu meal for $65, with wine paired with three of the courses (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for an additional $35. This experience is available at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

I was recently invited to a media dinner featuring a sample menu for the “CoraNation” dinner. From the amuse bouche featuring poached lobster to the leeks with glazed duck, everything tasted very good, delicate and refined. There were fennel dusted goat cheese salads, made with lettuce grown on Disney property at one of the EPCOT farms, as well as a chilled watermelon drink. The main entrees included oak grilled and peppered lavender lamb loin served with clamshell mushrooms in a smoked tomato lamb jus as well as pan roasted red grouper with kalamata olive oil hollandaise, summer squash, and kasseri corn cake. The meal ended with a sweet note, or rather, three: crispy phyllo filled with fig honey and farmer’s cheese, phoenika with chocolate tahini, Greek yogurt panna cotta with za’atar spiced grapefruit. Each dish came with a wines, many from Greek and some from Chef Cora’s private label, as well as sides of various luscious Greek olive oils.

For a preview of what you may find at this experience, see the photos below from the media event at Kouzzina featuring this “CoraNation” experience:



Sample menu for the CoraNation room – RSVP ahead


Glazed duck and lobster amuse bouche items


Fennel, goat cheese, baby beets salad


Cat Cora’s private label Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Olives and olive oil from Greece


Watermelon shooter


The entree of pan seared grouper and lamb loin


Pan seared grouper with kasseri corn cake


Oak grilled Lamb loin with mushrooms and au jus




Greek yogurt panna cotta with za’atar spiced grapefruit.


phoenika with chocolate tahini



crispy phyllo filled with fig honey and farmer’s cheesePhotobucket

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